Review: Iota ‘Pentasomnia’

News of a new Iota record provoked considerable excitement here – their 2008 one-and-apparently-done album Tales being both a nostalgia touchstone and an ongoing source of joy. To illustrate, after moving house and finally getting my turntable and speakers set up, it was in the first set of records I dug out of the box.

Iota 'Pentasomnia' Artwork
Iota ‘Pentasomnia’ Artwork

Having followed guitarist/vocalist Joey Toscano’s work in Dwellers since, it seemed to me that this would likely remain the band’s only release, his songwriting approach having moved on from the sometimes-propulsive, sometimes-languid stoned space blues of the debut. Bassist Oz Inglorious would go on to play with other bands (Bird Eater, Suffocater), and of course Andy Patterson has been well known in the intervening years for his drumming in SubRosa, The Otolith, Insect Ark and more, as well as his work making other bands sound great on record.

However, it appears that somewhere across 2018 and 2019 these three came together to work on a new Iota album, structured around the idea of ‘five dreams’ or settings of particular aspects of ‘self’, in a plural vision of identity such as that explored by Robert Anton Wilson.

Within that framework it becomes clear that this is not a record that speaks to the exact identity of Tales – while the debut was a varied album in terms of vibe and tempo, it sat reasonably firmly in a heavy stoned rock, using this as a stable base from which to launch out into more psychedelic space. Perhaps launching further from the base they established with that record, Pentasomnia dares to explore more widely in emotion and sound.

Those familiar with Dwellers will recognise the warped Americana of Toscano’s guitar and vocals, immediately a presence at the outset of The Intruder. While we are with the idea of identity, this is clearly a different beast from Dwellers, as the trio work their way into more open and bright psychedelia, yet also find their way to a more weighty fare as misters Inglorious and Patterson assert their own personalities.

the trio work their way into more open and bright psychedelia, yet also find their way to a more weighty fare…

Seen in the simplest terms as a power trio, all the ingredients are here – charismatic and skilled singer/guitarist, resolute and animated drummer, bassist who is deft when needed and ready to lay down the groove. That said, this is not a record that sits well with simplification, and nor are these simple performances.

There is a heady intent that makes it at times a difficult beast to hold in the mind. Take the way that The Witness begins with space rock urgency and whizzy noises but finds in its ostinato guitar line a choppy mantra which can only resolve into the strobed crush. And contrast the anthemic opening of The Returner – all Salt Lake desolation bliss. This song also sets off wandering into the spaces it creates, and it’s increasingly clear that it will take some time living with this music to make space in my head for the ideas presented.

The analyst in me feels ready to set off on a track-by-track categorisation of song elements, but we are here on The Sleeping Shaman, and The Shaman is perhaps more ready to try to listen to it as a whole, and there we find ourselves in a much more open place with fewer ready answers. There are gaps in Pentasomnia that, at this stage of listening, might feel less than fully satisfying, but perhaps next time around they will be the space that I needed to stretch out in.

More so than with Tales, there is a feeling of unfinished business about this album, although whether we can expect anything more from Iota is not something there seems to be any clues about. The Detective is busy, but the trail seems cold. The Ecstatic is busy enjoying the ride, The Collector is looking at shipping costs, and this writer is queuing the first track up for a repeat listen.

Label: Small Stone Recordings
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Scribed by: Harry Holmes